9.2.05

In memory of "The Incredible" Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith was born in 1926 in Norristown/PA. His father, a piano teacher, gave him lessons. Later, in 1948, Jimmy attended the Hamilton School of Music and, from 1949 to 1950, the Ornstein School of Music. 1951, he settled in Philadelphia, where he met all the important jazz greats. He then began playing piano professionally in R&B groups.It was not before 1953, that Jimmy took up the Hammond organ, when one night he heard Wild Bill Davis, the first major organ soloist. He had a lot of opportunities to hear organ players around Philadelphia, like Jackie Davis, Milt Buckner, Bill Doggett and Sir Charles Thompson.For the next year, Jimmy gigged on piano by night and practiced the organ by day. He had bought his own instrument and had housed it in a warehouse near his residence. After a year of very hard work he achieved a truly revolutionary style in playing the organ: emphasizing single note lines and walking bass lines. He formed his first trio with guitarist Thornel Schwartz and drummer Ray Perry. Jimmy started his extremely successful career in january 1956, when performing at the Café Bohemia and at Small's Paradise in New York. There, Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records discovered this "New Star" of the Hammond, and discribed, what he had noticed, as follows: "He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, the fingers flying, his foot dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound that I had never heard before. The noise was shattering."At that time, he made his first recordings for Blue Note (The Champ, The Preacher). The cooperation with this label lasted until 1962. In this period, Jimmy recorded mostly in trio, quartet and jam-session settings.
Further steps to his international reputation were appearances at Birdland and at the Newport Jazz Festival (1957). The next years, Jimmy toured around the USA, and achieved a very high recognition, not only for himself, but also for the instrument ORGAN. For long time, the electric organ had been considered a novelty instrument, unable to find its way into jazz music. Surely, it is the merit of Jimmy Smith to have led the Hammond organ off of its peripheral importance. Even "down beat" magazine gave the organ its own section for its Readers' Poll (1964). And it was Smith to receive most of all votes.
In 1962, Jimmy Smith signed up with Verve Records. The main emphasis of the recordings to follow was put on settings with big bands (Oliver Nelson), although also small combos are to be found in the huge variety of albums released during the Verve period, which ended 1972.
In the early 70's, Smith toured around all over the USA and Europe, and even visited Israel (1974). In 1975, Jimmy and his wife Lola settled in Los Angeles, where they founded their own Jazz Club (Jimmy Smith's Jazz Supper Club).
Later, in the 80's, Jimmy toured again and had performances all over the world. His success and his dynamic style influenced a lot of other jazz organ players, who copied or tried to copy the way Jimmy played. Even young organists like Joey DeFrancesco are under his spell. It is said that Jimmy Smith is for the organ, what Charlie Parker has been for the saxophone.